Portland teachers, district disagree over cost savings in union’s latest contract proposal

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Nov. 16, 2023 1:37 a.m. Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 2:05 p.m.

School remains closed Thursday, but union and district leaders noted “small” indications of progress following talks that ended Wednesday night.

FILE: Members of the bargaining team for the Portland Association of Teachers hold signs as they attend a board meeting at the Portland Public Schools district office in Portland, Nov. 7, 2023.

FILE: Members of the bargaining team for the Portland Association of Teachers hold signs as they attend a board meeting at the Portland Public Schools district office in Portland, Nov. 7, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The Portland Association of Teachers presented its latest contract proposal as promising savings of more than $120 million, much of it from a change to its proposal on limiting class sizes.


Such a move would be significant, as Portland Public Schools earlier this week estimated that the difference between the two sides’ offers is more than $200 million.

But after spending much of Wednesday analyzing the offer, PPS officials said the PAT proposal offers barely a quarter of the savings the union suggested.

The class size change, which PAT said would rein in $90 million in spending, would actually save only $6 million, according to the district’s calculations. The main cause of the cost difference, according to an analysis summary emailed to reporters by PPS Communications Director Will Howell, is that PAT was only scaling back its proposal regarding elementary classes, so costs would remain high based on middle and high school caps, as well as caseload limits for staff such as counselors and psychologists.

PPS confirmed some of the other areas of cost savings, such as $7 million from “retirement stabilization” and $5 million from removing the $3,000 stipends for special education teachers.

District officials couldn’t confirm savings from the union’s proposed change to planning time at the middle school level, which PAT said would save $5 million.

In a statement sent to reporters, Howell acknowledged the potential for confusion about the details of PAT’s proposals.


“We are reaching out to PAT to clarify what went wrong,” he said. “[B]ut the difference seems to be primarily concentrated in their class caps proposals.”

Calls and emails to PAT officials requesting clarification on their proposal were not returned Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement PAT sent out after bargaining concluded Wednesday, the union characterized its recent proposal more generally as having “narrowed the financial gap between PPS and PAT” without putting a dollar figure on the reduction or offering any further explanation of its Tuesday proposal.

While schools will remain closed Thursday, with the strike continuing, both union and district officials sounded more hopeful and less sharply critical of the other side coming out of bargaining talks Wednesday night.

Speaking to reporters outside the Firefighters Association building where negotiations took place Wednesday, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero acknowledged “creative ideas” from PAT that the district looked at closely. Guerrero echoed the district’s earlier analysis of PAT’s Tuesday offer.

“We took a careful read of their proposal — we had our budget and finance team, give it a careful analysis,” Guerrero said. “In fact, we determined it represented about a $30 million package of value. So, you know, as we get into the details and our team has a chance to really look at the numbers that was really our best cost estimate of what they forwarded [Tuesday].”

District and union officials said the district shared a new proposal with PAT shortly before bargaining ended Wednesday. This time, neither side immediately revealed details or cost breakdowns of what it included. But in a text message sent to parents Wednesday at 6 pm, the district said they “prepared offers to reduce educators’ workload & maximize planning time,” referring to two high-cost areas where the two sides remain apart.

Both PPS and PAT leaders said the two sides appear to be making progress. Guerrero estimated that the district and union had reached tentative agreements on as many as ten “smaller articles.” PAT president Angela Bonilla expressed a similar feeling of progress noting “small improvements” in the district’s latest offer a union email sent Wednesday evening.

“For the first time, PPS responded to PAT proposal in regard to class-size limits — a key issue for Portland educators, families and students,” Bonilla said. “Although it’s nowhere near enough, it’s a good start.”